Anonymous sculptor leaves literary artworks around Edinburgh
- Jen Bowden
- 10 February 2012
11 beautifully crafted sculptures, made from the pages of books, have been discovered
On a quiet day last March, the Scottish Poetry Library received an unexpected gift; a tree, fashioned from words and paper, blossoming from the yellowing book it rested upon. Throughout 2011, ten intricate sculptures appeared at creative organisations throughout Edinburgh, each with a tag addressed to their Twitter alias but with no name from the donor; it became a mystery with a modern twist.
A year on, an exhibition of all ten sculptures is being prepared and the artist remains unidentified. In the midst of it all, the Edinburgh Evening News claimed to know their identity, but a poll suggested the majority of the public didn't want to know, and the sculptor was never revealed.
The question remains, why make such beautiful works without taking credit for their creation? Peggy Hughes from UNESCO, suggests that the artist's anonymity ensures that focus remained on the act itself. 'I like the idea that it's just someone who loves Edinburgh and books,' she says. 'And that it was done was to celebrate the great organisations that the city has.'
Hughes was there when the first sculpture, christened 'The Poetree', was discovered at the Scottish Poetry Library. Librarian Julie Johnston came across it on an upstairs table: 'I went downstairs and asked if anyone knew what it was, but no-one had seen anything.' At the base was a broken egg containing words from Edwin Morgan's poem 'A Trace of Wings'. Staff were delighted but baffled as the tag gave them no clues, only a message of support.
'It started with your name @byleaveswelive and became a tree …
This is for you in support of libraries, books, words, ideas … a gesture (poetic maybe?)'
They felt it only right to share their gift, and it soon had a vast following on Twitter. No artist came forward.
Thought to be a one-off, the discovery of a second sculpture in June surprised everyone. This time a gramophone and coffin created from Ian Rankin's novel Exit Music was left on a glass display case in the National Library of Scotland. Theories formed that Rankin himself was behind these mysterious gifts, however the author was quick to insist he wasn't. The sculpture's label read:
'For @natlibscot A gift in support of libraries, books, words, ideas … & against their exit.'
The same month, a 'Paper Cinema' was left at Filmhouse's box office. Made from Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, it showed characters bursting from a screen and into an audience that included Ian Rankin drinking a Deuchars. In July the artist struck again when the 'Story Dragon' hatched on a quiet windowsill at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. Rankin's book Knots and Crosses was used to create the dragon bursting out of an egg.
Themes began to emerge; Rankin was half-discounted after he protested, but most were reluctant to believe the use of his works was coincidence. Cultural venues were the target, and Twitter the means of address with messages of support. Was the artist attempting to generate a greater appreciation of Edinburgh's arts venues? Hughes seems to think so. 'I would have thought, with the amount of press coverage, that if it was anything other than altruism then they would have revealed themselves.'
During Edinburgh's festival season two more were discovered at the Book Festival in August. UNESCO's was a wee man sitting beneath a tree, sculpted from James Hogg's Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. EIBF's was discovered in the festival Bookshop, featuring a leaky teabag, paper tea cup and cupcake. Not a Rankin reference in sight, but Twitter still went wild.
At the end of August, Edinburgh's Central Library discovered the 'Magnifying Glass' on an empty bookshelf, zooming in on words plucked from Edwin Morgan's poem 'Seven Decades'. Libraries are 'expansive', not 'expensive' , the message suggested. The sculptor's theme was becoming even more obvious, and their increasing generosity implied that they too wanted to contribute to Edinburgh's cultural heritage.
Things were quiet until November, when the discovery of a note in the Scottish Poetry Library's Visitor Book sent staff running to the shelves:
'Hopefully next time I’ll be able to linger longer – I’ve left a little something for you near Women’s Anthologies x. In support of Libraries, Books, Words and Ideas …'
A paper 'Cap and Glove' made of paper bee fur and bird wing rested beside a farewell note. It offered thanks to 'the twitter community who in some strange way gave rise to the idea in the first place'. She implied that community was the heart of the project (another revelation in the note 'she' wrote) saying: 'we have all colluded to make this work'. The 10/10 implied that the paper trail was over, but sculptures eight and nine were still to be found.
The next day a 'T-Rex' was discovered beneath the skeleton of a stag in the recently refurbished National Museum of Scotland. Created from Arthur Conan-Doyle's The Lost World, it was labelled '(9/10)'. Later that day, the Writer's Museum discovered a night-time city scene from Robert Louis Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde, complete with full moon hanging in the sky, on top of their donations box. Ian Rankin's novel Hide and Seek was used, and the '(8/10)' confirmed this was the final sculpture.
Or was it? On 25 November an 11th sculpture was left for Ian Rankin at Edinburgh Bookshop. Based on his novel, The Impossible Dead, two skeletons sat on a coffin listening to music and drinking beer. Cat Anderson took the delivery from the artist, but said she won't reveal her identity: 'I want to respect her anonymity, and I think her message was clear; "celebrate books, and what people are doing with them".'
Whatever the reason behind them, these works have united a city in recognition of it's cultural organisations. Whoever the artist is, she's shown that sometimes all it takes is a good, old-fashioned mystery to get Edinburgh's artistic juices flowing.
The Scottish Poetry Library are planning an exhibition of all the sculptures in spring 2012